An introduction to the values gap: a framework for interpretation

By | February 13, 2009

Believing as I do that the assumptions we make and the values we espouse influence the perspective from which we perceive the world and thus, the frame of reference which grounds the inferences we make from our observations, I thought to share a couple of snippets from prior writing on the subject.

The first is a short synopsis of what I've been calling the 'values gap' – the chasm that divides the value propositions of the producers (sellers, marketers, organizations) and the mindset and worldview of the buyers (those at the BoP, or the emerging low income markets of the developing world). Its from an article published on Core77 in January 2009,

The biggest hurdle to success in the BoP market has been a lack of
understanding that this market is very different from the mainstream
consumer culture prevalent in the developed world. Producers immersed
in mainstream consumer culture (elements of which include easy credit,
buy now/pay later terms, and style obsolescence) tend to consider those
at the base of the social and economic pyramid as having a very similar
or same worldview and value system as their existing consumers; that
they simply have less disposable income. So the value propositions of
the products, services, and programs introduced for lower income
markets—particularly in the developing world—are still based on
elements of the value system prevalent in global consumer culture.

There is a gap here, and its most commonly reflected in the marketing
messages, advertising and communications which tend to emphasize
benefits or value that may not be relevant—much less contextually
appropriate—to the BoP customer's life. When the value proposition of
the seller has little or no resonance with the value system of the
target market, it will most likely be ignored.

And for more background thinking behind these short paragraphs, the original post where I first attempted to capture the concept. Here is a key snippet,

Designing from the user's point of view, in this case, becomes far
more challenging. The environmental conditions, the mindset, the
quality of life, much less the disposibility of income are so vastly
different from the average mainstream consumer in the developed world
that there remains a gap. And while field research allows us to observe
the differences, until now its been for specific products or services
or an industry. It raises the question "Are there are any general
that can be identified?"

Marketing becomes even more challenging, not to
mention all the elements of standard marketing strategy including
supply chain, distribution, pricing and promotion. More on this topic
in forthcoming posts.

This provides the background for our approach to BoP user research as well as the frame of reference by which we'll attempt to analyse our observations for key insights. Its our fundamental premise – what CK Prahalad has referred to as the "tyranny of dominant logic" – that we must first shift the very frameworks by which we perceive our observations and thus reach our conclusions or interpretations of these phenomena.

Without this shift in perception, imho, I fear we will continue to attempt to 'understand' the decision making, the tradeoffs, the buyer behaviour et al observed among those who live on irregular and unpredictable incomes, particularly at the BoP, through a lens made up of implicit assumptions, barely recognized, emerging from the value systems prevalent in mainstream consumer culture. For one, the BoP are not consumers, but instead strategic money managers who are constantly and consistently processing value transactions in every aspect of expenditure in their daily lives.

But is this inference, based on two or three locations (SubSaharan Africa and India) valid? That remains to be seen.

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